Animal Testing Facts in Cosmetics You Need to Know in 2021

by Becky

April 21, 2021

Over 100 million animals die in US laboratories every year in the name of science. From curiosity-driven experiments, biological analyses, medical training, and cosmetic testing – animals bear a lot of pain to give humans the answers they seek.

There has been a lot of debate surrounding animal testing in cosmetics. Some countries have gone as far as banning the practice on the grounds of animal cruelty, yet some still uphold it.

Consumers are also becoming more aware of the products they use and have begun taking a stand. However, it all starts with understanding the situation at hand to make an informed decision. Here’s what you should know about animal testing in cosmetics.

All Types of Cosmetic Animal Testing is Cruel

Animal rights activists are fighting with zeal to ensure every country bans animal testing for cosmetics because all the procedures involved are cruel to animals.

The animals are injected with lethal doses of chemicals and are forced to inject or inhale these chemicals. Some of the tests they undergo include:

Acute Toxicity

This is a test that’s often done on rats or mice. The animals are exposed to dangerous chemicals by inhalation, mouth, or the skin. In the past, researchers would carry out 50 lethal dose tests until half of the animals died. The surviving animals would then be killed to perform an autopsy.

That’s not all. Some animals are also burned, brain-damaged, drowned, or starved. Furthermore, they’re infected with a plethora of diseases, and sometimes tumors as large as their body size are grown on their body.

Draize Eye Test

The Draize eye test involves placing a chemical substance in a rabbit’s eyes to test whether it’s an irritant. The animal is restrained for hours or even days so that the analysts can check its reaction over a long period.

These tests cause mechanical and chemical injuries and often result in ulcers, bleeding, or worse, blindness.

Rabbits have been used to test cosmetics for many years and the facts around their treatment is shocking. Find out more about these horrifying practices here: 9 Animal Testing Facts About Rabbits You Never Knew


These tests aim to find out if the substances being tested can alter the nervous system.

Animals are either given a single oral dose for 21 days or given the test substance orally for 28 days and then observed.

The researchers check for physical and behavioral changes during this time. When the tests are completed, the surviving animals are killed for autopsy.

Dermal Penetration

Rats are mainly used for dermal penetration. These tests analyze the movement of substances from the skin into the bloodstream. Once the chemical has been administered, the animals are killed to estimate the amount of absorbed substance.

The scary part is that rats’ and human skin have structural differences, resulting in unreliable data. Yet, researchers keep performing these tests on animals.

The Tests are Only Part of the Problem

These gruesome tests are only part of the problem when it comes to animal cruelty. The animals used in these experiments also live in the worst conditions. They’re often kept in crowded cages and are never given pain killers after the painful procedures they’ve been put through.

Furthermore, the animals are starved, mistreated, and live in fear. They never know when it’s their turn to get another gruesome test or die like the other animals.

Testing on Animals is Unreliable and Inaccurate

Those in favor of animal testing have been defending their stand, by saying that these tests are crucial for human wellbeing.

They say that it’s far more dangerous to let humans die or suffer when something can be done. However, you’d be surprised to know that most of the tests done on animals are unreliable and inaccurate.

There is no assurance that the products developed will be safe for humans.

Let’s take the dermal penetration test, for example. There are varying differences between human skin and rat skin. Therefore, the amount of substance absorbed into the bloodstream of rats is quite different from that of humans.

For this reason, researchers are not only putting animals in harm’s way but also endangering human life by developing products using inaccurate procedures.

This problem doesn’t just occur with dermal penetration. It’s a problem in the Draize eye tests and others, which further proves that animals are being put through unnecessary suffering.

There are Cheaper, More Accurate and Ethical Alternatives

In the past, one would be forced to look the other way because there were no alternatives to animal testing. This isn’t the case in the modern world. There are alternative methods that are way more accurate and don’t inflict any harm on animals. Some of these alternative methods include:

  • In Vitro: This is a test done in a controlled environment such as a test tube or Petri dish. The study often involves studying human, microorganisms, or animal cells in culture. The benefit of in vitro is that it’s straightforward. Scientists can carry out more tests than they would with animal subjects.
  • In Silico: This refers to any test that’s done on the computer or via computer simulation. Currently, they are three popular In Silico techniques. These include molecular modeling, bacterial sequencing techniques, and whole-cell simulations.
  • Organ-on-chips: These are tests that are based on human cells grown to mimic human organs functionally and structurally. The microchip organs can be used to study the effects of different substances by modeling human organs.

Some Countries Have Banned Animal Testing for Cosmetics

To some, the animal rights movement may seem like a new thing because there are plenty of activist groups today. However, the concept of animal rights has been in existence for over a thousand years in one form or another.

In religions like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, the concept of ahiṃsā is seriously upheld. It refers to non-violence. There is one method of harvesting silk that’s cruelty-free, known as Ahimsa, or Peace Silk and if you want to know more around the process you can read this article: Can Silk be Cruelty-Free

Jainism stresses the importance of avoiding animal cruelty. They prohibit their adherents from cutting down trees and using any fabrics, including silk, that are produced by harming other living beings.

The question a
round animal testing and basic ethics is a serious one – and something that’s worth your time and thought.

However, Europe and North America were the precursors of the modern-day animal rights movement.

The first legislation against animal cruelty was passed in 1635 prohibiting tearing wool out of a living sheep. Today, more and more countries embrace the idea of an animal cruelty-free world and impose bans on animal testing. They include.

European Union

The European Union has been at the forefront of fighting for animal rights and leading by example. As of 2020, the 27 countries of the EU have three significant testing bans – two testing bans and one marketing ban.

Testing Bans in the EU

The EU had made several attempts to ban animal testing, but their efforts didn’t bear any fruit because there were no alternative methods at the time. Things began changing in 2004. The EU banned animal testing on finished cosmetic products.

In 2009, they imposed an additional ban prohibiting the testing of ingredients on animals within the European Union.

Marketing Ban in the EU

In 2013, the EU took additional steps to put an end to animal testing. They introduced a prohibition of the sale of all cosmetics and ingredients that have been tested on animals in the EU. These prohibitions were expected to be followed regardless of whether there were alternative methods of testing or not.

The Introduction of REACH

The EU is not leaving any stone unturned in ensuring that everyone upholds the prohibitions put in place. In 2006, they introduced Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

REACH is a regulation that stipulates that all companies must provide information regarding each chemical's health and environmental safety.

For most companies, this is easy because most of the substances have been tested on animals in previous years. Therefore, getting this information isn’t a challenge.

However, most EU countries still perform tests on animals for new chemicals because there isn't any existing research.

The fact that so many ingredients have already been researched is proof that cosmetic ingredients that we "know" don’t need to be tested on animals. It also explains why cruelty-free products are safe.

United States

Many people expected the United States to follow suit after the European Union took bold steps to end animal testing in Europe. After all, the US is also a market leader. However, things seemed to remain at a standstill for many years until 2020.

In 2020, three states – Illinois, Nevada, and California took the lead by banning all cosmetics tested on animals. Currently, animal rights activists are at work – day in and day out to ensure there is a nationwide ban.

Other Countries

Several countries have also put a stop to animal testing. These include:

  • South Korea (2015)
  • Guatemala (2017)
  • New Zealand (2015)
  • Taiwan (2019)
  • India (2014)
  • Israel (2013)
  • Norway (2013)
  • Turkey (2016)

Although it’s a move in the right direction, these bans have several loopholes that have encouraged researchers to keep testing on animals despite the prohibitions in place. Some of the loopholes include:

  • There are exceptions in cases of environmental and health concerns.
  • The prohibitions don’t apply when companies introduce ingredients that have not been tested on animals before. In such cases, animal testing is allowed.
  • Sometimes, the prohibitions only hold water when there are alternative testing methods for that specific test. Otherwise, animal testing is still allowed.
  • Sometimes, the bans are not upheld if the products are exported in or imported from other countries.
  • In most cases, there are other requirements for raw materials and ingredients used in cosmetics, such as preservatives and sterilizers.


China remains one of the most controversial countries when it comes to the issue of animal testing. Until recently, China expected pre-market and post-market animal testing for all cosmetics physically sold in mainland China.

Luckily, in 2014, the Chinese government stopped the requirement for cosmetics produced in China to be tested on animals. This is one of the only reasons it’s possible to find cruelty-free cosmetics within the country today.

Unfortunately, they still required animal testing to be done on all imported cosmetics.

Because China is a massive market for most countries, this has been among the top reasons why most countries haven’t banned animal testing for cosmetics.

In 2019, China stopped requiring post-market testing for cosmetics. However, there are still loopholes and many animal rights activists aren’t happy with how shady the process is.

For instance, in cases where there have been complaints such as health concerns, animal tests must be conducted. Besides, the requirement for pre-market tests still stands in China.

These law relaxations by China only refer to mandatory animal testing on animals.

Not only is the unethical treatment of animals in laboratories is still legal in China – meaning that companies that sell there can still test on animals. But China does more animal testing per year than any other country in the world.

Cruelty-Free and Vegan Are Different

In the cosmetic industry, the terms “cruelty-free” and “vegan” are used interchangeably. However, these words don’t mean the same thing. Using them interchangeably creates confusion for the end-users because they don’t understand what they’re buying into – here’s what these words mean.

  • Cruelty-free: It means that no harm or cruelty was imposed on any animal during the production of a particular product. This may be a simplified definition and if you want a more in-depth explanation you can read this article: What Does Cruelty-Free Really Mean? (Ultimate Guide)
  • Vegan: It means that that particular product doesn’t contain any animal by-products or animal ingredients.

A product can be cruelty-free and vegan. However, it can also be cruelty-free and not vegan and vice versa.

The problem is that the term “cruelty-free” lacks a formal legal definition. Because the authorities don't regulate the word, it creates a lot of confusion, especially as more and more companies dub themselves "cruelty-free" without proof.

Nonetheless, the universal meaning of cruelty-free is “not tested on animals.”

We understand how easy this can be to mix up – so we’ve taken the liberty to map it out for you here: Are Cruelty-Free Products Vegan?

Factors that Make a Brand Cruelty-Free

As we’ve mentioned, a product is only considered cruelty-free if no animal tests were done to produce the product. This means that the finished product and its ingredients have not been tested on animals by the manufacturer or anyone else in the world.

Some brands dub themselves “cruelty-free” because they don’t test their finished products on animals. However, they don’t factor in the fact that the ingredients may have been tested on animals by others. Others claim they do not test on animals without taking into account:

  • That third-parties test ingredients and finished products on animals.
  • That their suppliers may test all their ingredients on animals before selling them.

A product can’t be cruelty-free in one country and tested on animals in another. The product is either completely cruelty-free (where no animal tests were involved from ingredients to the end products) or not. There are no in-betweens.

A brand can’t also be cruelty-free except for specific products. If some of their products or ingredients are tested on animals, they shouldn’t call themselves a cruelty-free brand. Again, there is no in-between.

The Public Funds Animal Experimentation Knowingly or Unknowingly

The public knowingly or unknowingly funds animal experimentation through their taxes, buying lottery tickets, and consumer products. One of the largest sources of funds comes from publicly funded granting agencies like the National Institute of Health (NIH).

About 47% of NIH research is conducted on animals, and in 2019 alone, NIH budgeted close to $40 billion for research and development.

Furthermore, multiple charities such as the American Cancer Society and March for Dimes use the proceeds from the donations to fund experiments on animals.

One-third of the projects that the National Multiple Sclerosis Fund funds goes into animal experimentation.

However, despite all the animal experiments done using public funds, the public can’t get transparent and detailed information about how their funds being used.

The public can use State open-records laws and the US Freedom of Information Act to obtain information from government agencies, state institutions, and federally funded facilities. But private institutions are exempt.

In most cases, institutions that are subject to open records don’t reveal the information willingly either. They do everything in their power to withhold information about animal experimentation from the public.

Grossly Inadequate Regulatory Measures

Although millions of animals are killed in laboratories every year, there are gross oversight and regulatory inadequacies in most countries. For instance, there are no regulations protecting animals from any form of distress or suffering during experiments.

99% of the animals used in experiments are exempt from the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Most companies that use these animals are not required to provide animals with any form of pain relief or veterinary care.

What’s more, they are not required to search for alternative testing methods or be inspected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) or any other entity. As a result, animal cruelty continues to be the order of the day because companies can get away with it.

And even when the companies are supposed to undergo inspections, these are not thorough because there is gross under-staffing. Furthermore, most companies get away with a tap on the wrist.

Wrapping Up

The world is a long way from becoming free of animal cruelty. In the cosmetic industry alone, only a few countries have imposed bans on the practice, and still, there are significant loopholes that keep the practice active despite the prohibitions.

However, with countries like the US and China making changes, there is hope for improvement in the years to come. And with animal rights activists going above and beyond to sensitize the public on all issues to do with animal testing – there is a push to move in the right direction from various sectors.

What Does Cruelty-Free Really Mean? (Ultimate Guide)
What Countries are Cruel to Animals in 2021?
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